Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Please, work together already!

The opening plenary of the Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA) conference last week featured a selection of stories about donors around the world. It also challenged fundraisers to respond to the global financial cock-up by doing pretty much what they know they should anyway. Three problems were addressed: parochialism, complacency and short-termism.

Looking at parochialism, the need for mergers was discussed. But reluctance to merge could also be part of complacency and short-termism. We all know what we need to do about mergers and federations - but we don't do it.

In two other sessions I heard about mergers and how to deal with the messy federated structures in so many charities. I attended one presented by three sector leaders, Dr Lyn Roberts from National Heart Foundation, Darren Peters formerly of the Australian Paralympics Association, and Gerard Menses from Vision Australia. All talked about the issues they encountered in deciding to bring a bunch of organisations together - especially the problems. But they still went ahead and did it.

It seemed to me that the biggest problems of merging are ego and parochialism, which are very tightly linked. I mean parochialism in a geographical and task context.

Speaking of geography, it's ridiculous to think that because I live just south of the QLD/NSW border I would somehow need different services as a beneficiary, or react differently as a donor to those a few kilometres north. Surely a retired accountant in Sydney has more in common with a retired accountant in Perth than a brickie in Sydney?

And by "task" I mean the kind of crazy, so-called important differences between charities that are really irrelevant. For example, when I worked at Imperial Cancer Research Fund in the UK we were pretty much taught to "knock" our rivals, Cancer Research Campaign, because we funded our own researchers whereas they gave grants. You reckon someone with cancer or a donor gives a toss?

Luckily the two charities got over the ego problems and merged, going from a combined income of about $240 million when I was there, to raising the best part of a billion dollars now (I must add that the increase in income was not a consequence of my leaving!!).

I look around and see tons of charities doing what seems to be the same thing, split only by artificial geographical lines or irrelevant differences.

A recent example from my travels was of two charities that provide camps for kids with certain needs. One runs the camps with trained volunteers, the other with paid professionals. One looks after kids aged x to y, the other y to z.

Hey - how about running camps for kids between ages x and z using professionals and volunteers?

And slashing the costs of 2 x CEOs, 2 x boards, 2 x finance teams, 2 x fundraising teams, 2 x offices etc.

Maybe the current financial crisis finally forces us to face these tough decisions. After all, in the UK nearly half of all mergers were actually rescues of an ailing organisation.

In the US, mergers of not-for-profits are, according to Gerard Menses, running at the same rate as those of for-profits.

He identified that the big merger between agencies helping the vision impaired paid for itself within a couple of years.

So please - dump the egos, parochialism and short termism. We can't afford so many charities doing the same stuff. Donors love mergers. Merge away!

I write a monthly column called 'The Agitator' (not the same as the pretty cool fundraising website of the same name) for an Australian fundraising magazine's e-bulletin. Check out their archives, including this call for mergers on their website. Also Check out the other agitator here).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Climate change video - great stuff

Apart from the uncomfortable chant, I really liked this.

Clever way to display graphs, clear call to action and quite motivating. Well worth the four minutes.

Check it out...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pro Bono - a nasty sting?

Charities love to get stuff for free. When I was a new fundraiser, fresh out of college in 1992, I rang up Jane Tewson - founder of Charity Projects / Comic Relief in the mid 80s. I told her I wanted to be a fundraiser, and asked if I could visit her for tips. She accepted and I think it would have been my second ever trip to the big city (London) was to see her.

It was a great, inspiring day and one of the things she told me was that Charity Projects didn't pay for anything. They had this team of scroungers who got stuff to keep the place running. A great example was the 180 toilet rolls stacked outside the loos that someone had donated.

Over the years she has set up other charities - including some here in Australia - and been involved in organisations connected with NGOs, such as an organisation that measures corporate social responsibility.

Since meeting Jane then I have not seen any, significant successful pro bono (free) services that genuinely helps charities - except for some well run volunteer programs.

Significant pro bono services that I have come across as a fundraiser, and then as a supplier tend to fall into three categories:

* Marketing / PR / advertising creative
For example: We will design some posters for you

* Marketing / PR / advertising media
For example: We have a load of spots at train stations you can have for free

* Sales opportunities
For example: You donors will want to buy our insurance, and we give you x%

The number of times charities talk to me really excited about a free opportunity is overwhelming. But, a cold hard look at it afterwards shows that the whole thing was a waste of time. After the event (and the agency has won it's award) the charity usually says 'it didn't work - but at least it was free!'

But they are wrong.

It wasn't. The time taken negotiating, approving copy, ensuring IP rights* are maintained etc is all expensive. A free DM appeal that raises $100,000 is not as good as a paid for one that costs $50,000 and raises $250,000.

Or even if it was not instead of another activity it will have cost time. Most fundraisers don't call all their top donors because they have not got time. There is no doubt that those half dozen calls not made would have raised more.

If someone you offers you something for free, remember,

if it seems too good to be true, it is.

With companies suffering losses in work, some will be offering their services to charities for free. If they do, think it through carefully and make sure you are in charge of the project, with clear goals, expectations and a contract.

I am sure there are good pro bono things out there - I have just never seen a good example since Comic Relief - and even then, maybe they would have raised more if people were calling donors for money, instead of toilet roll?

Disaster Fundraising Guide download it here